Clan Mackay Society of the USA

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Photos by John Grogan

The White Banner or 'Bratach Bhan' is one the most important relics of the Clan Mackay. It is said to have last been carried at the Battle of Druim na Coup near Tongue in Sutherland in 1433 when Ian Abrach, the illegitimate son of Angus Dhu, led a charge against the Sutherlands. The original banner is in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

On October 2, 2017, Doug McCoy and I were able to view the White Banner of Mackay at the Collections Center of the National Museum of Scotland in north Edinburgh. We were met by Lyndsay McGill, a curator of the museum, who was well informed on the banner. The banner was donated to the museum by Clan Mackay Society 1898, it is not known how long they had it nor where it came from. There are some documents that try to explain it, but I have not sorted through those yet. I will update this post when I have read through them.

In the first paragraph, Ms McGill said was the folklore as it had been handed down. According to the textile experts at the museum studied the banner and their best estimate is that the banner came from the mid to late 1500s. The banner is made from white or near white silk and the thread, hand embroidered, is also silk. At the top is a leather sleeve where it could have been used to suspend the banner vertically, but was not original, must have been added much later. The banner itself is only 2' by 3' and has an embroidered rampant lion in the lower middle. Another embroidered design appeearing to be a hand or goblet with a motto. The words on the hand, 'Be tren' is probably gaelic, 'Biodh tren' for "Be Valiant". The inscription on the scroll is Scots, "Verk Visly and tent to ye end", meaning, work wisely and pay heed to the end. It is not known if this is the motto or just what is implied. Nothing was ever recorded with the Lord Lion in the early days of the clan.

The museum does not know exactly what the banner was used for, but doubt that it was a battle flag, but rather a ceremonial banner used in a great hall, church or other official use. However, she did point out that the use is not clear and they do not say is was not a battle flag, this is just their best guess based on their information about the time period and styles of the time.

No matter which you may believe it is, the museum did say that this is a remarkable relic of Clan Mackay. It is the only surviving banner from any clan and that Clan Mackay is the oldest clan society of its kind.

More to come ...

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